A COUNCIL’s economy boss has spoken of his “complete confidence” in a controversial firm to oversee a £1.5m scheme to transform a large landmark building at the heart of a town centre.

After hearing a litany of concerns about Darlington Borough Council council’s contracted partner in the Indoor Victorian Market, Market Asset Management, (MAM) Councillor Alan Marshall revealed to a meeting of the authority had “looked very carefully at the relationship between MAM and ourselves”.

The senior Tory member was speaking after facing questions from three other political parties over MAM’s future at the market and admitting that he had been as unaware as traders had been that all the plans to transform the historic building, such as creating a winter garden, had been approved.

The planned revamp will also include the creation of a more extensive food and beverage offer in the market vaults area of the building.

Councillor Libby McCollom, whose Park East ward includes the town centre, laid out a spectrum of concerns about MAM and in particular over its communication with traders and their disatisfaction with the firm.

She told members how MAM continued to charge full rent from stallholders throughout lockdown, despite the indoor market being closed, and how other councils had ended partnerships with the firm.

Cllr McCollom said: “Our markets are our heritage and these are residents’ businesses and since MAM took on the lease of the market they have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. So, when is enough, enough?

“What will it take for this council to take back control of the markets from MAM?”

Liberal Democrat councillor Hilary Allen said she had been aware of a wide range of concerns, some of them “abhorrent”, about MAM since February last year.

She said: “One of the traders has been forced to pay water rates and her particular site does not even have a tap on it.”

Conservative councillor Pauline Culley said the previous Labour administration had signed the contract with MAM and “we were too far and too deep in it by the time we took over to be able to do anything much about the legalities about it.”

Cllr Marshall said “some very deep discussions at a very senior level” had been held over the council’s relationship with MAM and said the council had “renewed confidence in their ability to deliver what they set out to deliver”.

He said: “We have a very good relationship, a renewed strengthened relationship with MAM. This will move forward. I am completely confident in it.

“We have a schedule of works which we will hold them to and we will manage this contract the best we can. I am still confident we will end up with a fabulous, transformed covered market.”

Cllr Marshall said both he and the authority’s leader had recently met with market traders and that he was of the belief communication between MAM and the market traders “was going on all the time”.